On my first day of Junior High School I was nervous, excited and scared. I walked from my apartment building with a friend, up the steep hill, passing the red brick elementary school I had graduated from and the gray cemetery that lurked on the right side. It was at least a 25 minute walk to our bus stop which was in front of the big, smoky subway station.
I was overwhelmed by the sensory overload in the morning: noise and stimulation, many people bustling about, headed to trains or buses, to the coffee shop, The Pastrami King, the pharmacy, or the courthouse. Everybody walked so quickly, rushing to their destination.
Finally, our bus came and we piled on pushing and shoving trying unsuccessfully to save a seat for a friend. There were four seats in the last row where the “tough” kids sat smoking and blowing their smoke in our direction.
There were smells on that bus from an array of both food and people: tuna fish sandwiches, the sugar sweetness of French crullers, sweat, body odor and smelly feet, potato chips. There was always one “bad kid” in the neighborhood and of course he was there ready to make himself known as if we had forgotten him after six years of elementary school.
We passed the bank clock and it was always 8:32 am, every single day, in bright large numbers, in yellow-orange against a black background, that always cheered me up. I marveled at the accuracy of the bus each morning. That was the highlight of my day. It was, after all, Junior High School, you were almost required to be moody and miserable, it’s just the one thing they didn’t pass a handbook out for.
The real change was recess which was not held in the comfortable basement of our school like it was in elementary school but rather outside in a cold, cement area marked with high wired fences. It looked like a prison. There were no trees in the back, not a blade of grass or flowers.
It was the first time where we changed teachers for different subjects, moved with the same students, from class to class. It was fascinating and new, odd and strange. Junior High School is not a great experience for many people, probably due to our age. It’s an awkward time, the guys and girls wearing acne, boys’ voices were in the middle of changing, the girls were in a huge range of maturity and we were all uncomfortable and self-conscious, everybody hated how they looked.
Socially, it was a new world, new girl friends, a larger and diverse crowd than elementary school. I hung out with a new friend who introduced me to smoking menthol cigarettes while chewing gum and drinking Fresca soda on a huge rock that we scrambled up in the big, bright park after school. Her name was Susan and after my phase of trying to be bad, I gave it up shortly. Judy, was my best friend with bright red hair and a twin and we sat next to each other in class, trying to desperately hide our laughter. We had a horrible teacher who made angry spots on the blackboard with his chalk and every time he did it we would burst out in hysterics. At the same time I stared at a classmate who picked at her hair for an entire hour and a half. I couldn’t stand to look yet I couldn’t look away.
It was a world unknown and new yet very stressful and depressing. It was on the very same bus, going home, that I heard one of my friends, since childhood, had committed suicide. She overdosed on drugs after her mother remarried a classmate’s father. I couldn’t stop thinking about that, I never forgot about it either.
Her absence, in Junior High School was far more memorable than any day I sat in class. I can still picture her face, her long black eyelashes, the intense blue of her unwavering stare. This is in memory for you, Lori B.